Head Games

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The installation popped up in the middle of campus one day. Nobody knew who had put it there. Some speculated that it was an experiment from the psych department, or maybe it was an interactive piece made my some of the art students. Clearly someone in the engineering department must have been involved. Others speculated it was a prank from a rival school, or some kind of viral marketing campaign.

The installation was slightly larger than a porta-potty, but with an open front. It featured a chair with some weird devices hanging above it, and an apparatus to the side which resembled an old slot machine.

At the front of the installation was this sign.

Head Games

Instructions:

  1. To participate, hair must be long enough to reach red clamp (approx. 6 inches).
  2. Before using, wipe down head straps and hair clamp with sanitizing wipe.
  3. Place hair in ponytail and secure it with hair clamp
  4. Tighten straps around head, in front of scalp and behind hairline at the back of the neck
  5. Press the red button.
  6. When the red button is pressed, the wheels will spin. Each wheel has numbers 0 through 4. If all three wheels land on 0 (1 in 125), the device will trigger and shave the head of the participant.

After those instructions was a QR code which linked to a live stream of the installation.

For most of the day, the installation was met with intrigue, but nobody dared sit down in the chair. Around lunch time, a sophomore philosophy major named Hailey Stevenson with shoulder length brown hair read the instructions, as many had before her, but rather than react with shock, she reacted by sitting down in the chair. A crowd began to form as she figured out how to clamp her ponytail and tighten the straps.

She pushed the red button. The wheels were oriented so that the participant could not see them, but the immediate reactions from the curious onlookers told her that her hair was safe. The clamp opened, the head straps released and Hailey’s hair fell back down to her shoulders.

“See, wasn’t so hard. Bunch of pussies!” She taunted the small crowd of onlookers.

A few minutes later, Priya Patel, a freshman biology major, took the chair. Once again, the wheels spun, none of them landed on 0, and her hair was released.

Some of the boys from the Delta Beta Alpha Gamma fraternity attempted to participate, but none of them had long enough hair and nothing happened when they pressed the button.

After about ten more long-hair thrill seekers had spun the wheel and left with their locks intact, the Alpha Sigma Sigma sorority showed up with their entire class of freshman pledges. One by one, the seniors ordered them to sit in the chair and push the button. One of the freshman had a scare when the first two wheels landed on zero, but the final wheel stopped harmlessly on three. The last of the sorority girls to go was Lisa Hernandez, who had already established herself as the queen bee of the freshman class. As she pushed the button and the wheels stopped, the other pledges all let out a shocked scream in unison. Lisa closed her eyes and braced for the clippers… and the clamps opened and released her hair. The other girls from the sorority burst into laughter. “The look on your face!”

Once the sorority girls had all gone, the chair sat empty for fifteen minutes until junior finance major Kylie Greenberg sat down. She pulled her curly brown locks into a ponytail and secured them in the clamp. She pushed the button, and as the wheels slowed, the onlooked gasped and shouted. “I guess we’re doing that for everyone now” Kylie thought to herself, trying not to give them what they wanted by reacting. She waited for the clamp to release, but instead, heard a loud buzzing and felt something vibrating at the front of her scalp. She sat still, shocked, as the vibration slowly moved from the front to the back of her head. The series of electric clippers, pressed down against her scalp by spring-loaded actuators, slowly worked their way back until they reached the top of her neck. Then the machine shut off and the head straps released.

Kylie wanted to cry. She had watched so many people spin the wheels and be safe that she had convinced herself there was no danger. Her sorrow didn’t last long though, as the small crowd of onlookers began to clap and cheer for her. Her hair was an absolute mess. The clippers had missed some spots, and ragged tufts of curly hair hung limply between the paths of even stubble. Still, people wanted to take pictures with her, follow her on instagram, invite her to parties. She even got asked for her number by a cute guy from her Calculus class.

The next morning, the installation was gone. The live stream was offline, replaced with a link to the video of Kylie’s locks being shorn. Stories began to circulate around campus of the Head Games booth. Half the girls claimed they would have tried, but they were busy that day, or didn’t hear about it until it was too late.

They would get another chance. A few days later, the installation popped back un in a different spot. This time, the wheels only went from 0 to 3, meaning the odds were 1 in 64, and the clamp had been moved un 2 inches, increasing the minimum hair length to about 8 inches.

As students trickled in for their morning classes, they were much less hesitant to try their luck this time, as long as plenty of people were watching, of course.

The first wave of participants all went through without anyone losing their hair. Then the sorority girls showed up again. This time, it was the upperclassmen who were forced to take the chair, an agreement they had made with the freshman to avoid being reported for hazing. Ashley Washington, the sorority president who had come up with the idea in the first place, was made to go first. She wasn’t even sure whether this thing would work on her, as she pulled her dreadlocks tight and clamped them in. She wouldn’t have to find out, as none of the wheels landed on 0. Next up was Marsha Hempstead, the vice president of the sorority and heiress to a chain of car dealerships. She enthusiastically placed her bleached blonde hair into the clamp and secured the head straps. As the wheels slowed, the other girls began wooing and gasping. Marsha didn’t know whether they were trolling her or not, but she was determined not to show fear and clapped and cheered along with them. The vibrations at the front of her scalp proved their reactions to be genuine. Marsha cheered, careful to sit still as the automated clippers did their work. When she was released, it became apparent that some design improvements had been made, as unlike the previous victim, all of her hair had been shorn with no missed spots, though the length of the stubble was somewhat uneven.

Over the next few days, Marsha leaned into the attention that the stunt had gotten her. She finished the job herself that night, shaving off the remainder of her hair with a razor and polishing it to a smooth shine. It was by far her most viewed and liked TikTok.

The booth was gone the next day. A student posted a video which claimed to show two masked men with dollies loading it into a box truck at 3 in the morning. It was too dark to read the license plates, and most of the comments on the video were scolding the original poster for assuming the masked figured were men. When the apparatus reappeared in a new location a few days later, the clamp was once again moved up 2 inches and the wheels once again had fewer numbers. Now they went from 0 to 2 for a 1 in 27 chance of a shearing.

Ellen Thomas had a compulsive need to game any system she came across. When she heard of Head Games, she was intrigued, but was not willing to risk parting with her shiny auburn curls. She came up with a plan. She placed her real hair under a bald cap, then put on a wig from the local costume shop that closely resembled her real hair. She waited patiently as the line in front of her moved slowly, each person nervously pushing the button and walking away with all of their hair and a look of either relief or disappointment. When her turn came up, she grinned widely, pushing the button with no fear. When the wheels stopped, she heard cheers and applause, followed by buzzing. At first, she was calm as the clippers ravaged her cheap wig, but then she felt a tugging on the bald cap and heard an awful sound as the clippers began to chew through it. She felt the bare metal of the clipper guards on her scalp for a few seconds before there was a loud pop and the whole device shut off.

When Ellen removed the head straps manually and freed herself, everyone could see what she had done. The wig was still stuck in the machine, and she emerged wearing a bald cap that had been pulled back and tattered. The hair under it was ruined, a bald patch covered about a quarter of her scalp while the hair in the front had been severed at various lengths. People began booing her. This was way more humiliating than just having her head shaved, and the clipper had taken enough that she’d still have to do that anyway.

Marsha was one of the people watching, and decided to help Ellen rather than pile on the ridicule. She organized a charity fundraiser where people could pay $20 to take a swipe at Ellen’s hair with a pair of electric clippers. When all of her long hair was gone, she covered her head with shaving foam and charged another $20 per swipe to shave it smooth with a razor. Overall, she raised almost $800 for charity.

As expected, when the booth made its next appearance, the odds had increased, now with only a 0 and 1 on each wheel, for odds of 1 in 8, but unlike the previous runs, the minimum length increased by six inches this time, now requiring a minimum of sixteen inches of hair to be placed on the line. There was now an attendant to give each participant’s hair a pull to make sure nobody was cheating. It was Kylie, now sporting a short, faded buzzcut. When asked who had told her to be there, she said nobody had asked her to, and she was just there to protect the integrity of the game. When asked how she knew exactly when and where the booth would show up next, she paused and claimed it was a lucky guess.

Nearly an hour went by before the booth had any takers. Dr. Angela Jones, a physics professor, had promised her students that she would put her waist-length brown locks on the line next time the booth showed up if anyone got a 100 on her most recent exam, a feat which no student had ever accomplished. Three students got perfect scores. After her 8AM class had concluded, the students followed her to watch her take her turn in the seat. Following through on her promise, she strapped herself in and pressed the button. Several of the students got excited when all three wheels landed on 1, not understanding the rules, but the clamp released and her hair was untouched.

The next participant was a person nobody recognized. She was a self-described influencer who had been following the game online and had jumped right in the car and driven from an hour away when she saw that it had reappeared this morning. After sitting down and securing her long red hair into the device, she unzipped her hoodie, revealing a T-shirt with a QR code linking to her OnlyFans profile. After she pressed the button, she lifted up her T-shirt and flashed her breasts to the crowd, drawing a mix of cheers and groans. Much to the disappointment of everyone watching, she did not roll triple zeroes. She did gain dozens of new followers though.

Another hour went by. Some people had tried to volunteer but been turned away because their hair wasn’t long enough. Rachel Kovacs, a senior comp sci major with long, pink hair and tattoos covering her chest and arms was the next to go, her hair barely reaching the clamp. With zero hesitation, she pressed the button. The reaction of the onlookers made it immediately apparent that she had rolled the triple zeroes. She sat completely still, smiling, as the machine laid waste to her colorful hair. The design apparently had been improved again, because when it was finished, she was left with an even, short buzz. Rachel stayed for a while to chat with the admiring onlookers. She had been planning on getting an undercut so she could get tattoos on the side of her scalp, but decided that if she did win the Head Games, she would take the opportunity to get her entire scalp inked instead.

Many wondered if that was the end of the social experiment. After all, there were no more numbers to remove without making it a guarantee. Whoever was organizing this had other ideas. The live stream page now had a message displaying exactly when and where the booth would appear next, the new minimum length: 24 inches, and the new odds of being shaved: 100%.

The machine was installed exactly when the website said it would be. This time all four previous winners were present.

“Looks like I’m the only one with any hair” Kylie remarked, rubbing her short buzzcut. Ellen and Marsha, who had quickly become close friends, had both shaved and polished their heads this morning, and Rachel had plastic wrap covering most of her scalp while the new tattoos healed.

“We can fix that!” Marsha snapped back, opening the leather bag she carried to reveal a set of shaving supplies.

“Sure why not, not like there’s much left anyway.” Kylie responded with a shrug.

As the crowd started to gather, Marsha put on a show for them, carefully lathering Kylie’s head and scraping off of all her remaining hair. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the sensation more.

The clock struck noon, and the lights on the device sprung to life. There was speculation over whether or not anyone would volunteer for a certainty of being shaved. Seven girls did.

Marsha, clearly the leader of the four bald girls attending to the installation, read a prepared script.

“In the event that multiple volunteers come forward, the participant with the longest hair will be chosen. In addition, that participant must agree to let the booth attendants… that’s us… manually shave off all remaining hair.” She opened her bag again and showed the contents to the crowd.

By far the longest hair belonged to Kaylynn Young, a junior psych major. She had grown up in an ultra-religious household where she was not allowed to cut her hair, but her parents had disowned her after she came out as a lesbian last summer. So much of her identity had been wrapped up in her ultra-long hair, and it was the thing everyone recognized her for, but it was also a grim reminder of her past, and the family that would never accept her. She had actually already sat in the chair when the odds were lower, but had not been successful in rolling zeroes. Her strawberry blonde locks reached down to her thighs, despite being tightly braided. The other would-be volunteers stepped aside as their hair wasn’t even close.

“Holy shit!” Kylie muttered to Marsha under her breath as this Rapunzel strutted towards the chair.

“You’re sure about this right? You know that once you press the button, there’s not going back? And if you do it, I’ll shave you as bald as I am.” Marsha asked the volunteer in a reassuring tone

“Yep, I’m ready, LETS DO THIS!” Kaylynn shouted.

It took the group of bald girls a few minutes to unravel the braids and secure her head and hair in the device. Once everything was firm and secure, Marsha read from the card again.

“Once you push the red button, the device will…” She stopped when she realized nobody was paying attention to her. Turning back, she saw Kaylynn giggling with glee as the device razed the hair at the front of her scalp leaving only pale stubble behind. The throng of onlookers began to cheer and the girl in the chair cheered with them, smiling gleefully as her defining feature was being annihilated.

Kaylynn stood up as soon as the straps on her head released and raised her arms in triumph, feeling the rough sensation of her scalp for the first time. The machine had done a fairly thorough job. Only in a couple places did strands longer than a couple millimeters remain.

Marsha waited until the cheering had died down a bit to do the next part.

“Now, as agreed upon, we’ll finish the job!” She announced as she shook a can of shaving cream.

“Actually…” the newly bald girl replied timidly “about that part… instead of you shaving my head totally bald…” she paused “could I do it myself?”

“Oh… uhh… sure” Marsha replied, trying to conceal her disappointment.

Kaylynn was very theatric in the way she shaved her head. After spreading an even layer of foam over her scalp with the help of a hand mirror, she slowly stroked the razor over her head as if she was posing for a photoshoot. She knew how many people were filming this and made sure to get the most out of every second of it. Once she had removed every last bit of hair from her scalp, she looked in the mirror again.

“Oops! Missed a couple spots!” she giggled. She spread some more of the shaving foam over each eyebrow and, with a couple strokes of the razor on each side, made them as smooth as the rest of her head.

When she was done, she managed to pry her gargantuan ponytail out of the clamp. She posed for pictures with it, holding it like a man would hold a fish in a picture on his Tinder profile. In this moment, she felt truly triumphant. She knew she could never grow her hair back, at least not for the rest of her time here. Instead of being the girl with the really, really long hair, she was going to be the girl with the bald head, and she was going to own it, because it was an identity she chose for herself.

The installation disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived. Nobody ever did know for sure who put it there. It was the subject of debate for a while, but eventually people’s attention moved the the new upgrades to the football stadium, thanks to a substantial grant from an obscure government agency.

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